Art Medium: Acrylic on canvas
Size: 45 cm x 55cm
“From within the brushes of green-blue paint, that BAGLAMA from the behind the museum’s glass cabinet, came forth with striking clarity…”
The first time I ever saw a Baglama was over 25 years ago. I was in a quiet room of The Greek Folk Instrument Museum a humble but magnificent Museum in the Plaka area of Athens. The Baglama was made out of Tortoise shell. Though small and silent, in my mind’s eye it instantly took on mythical proportions.
A Baglama is pear shaped, its a seven stringed instruments found in various cultures around the eastern Mediterranean. It looks like a mini version of a Bouzouki. Pitched an octave higher, it has character and brings such a gorgeous sound among more sophisticated ‘strings. It often accompanies its big brother in Rebetika music, Greek blues, giving a vibrato sound to the compositions.
‘The Tortoise and the Baglama’ was a painting from my BRUSH WITH THE BLUES art exhibition which had paintings and sculptures inspired by the history culture and music of the Greek Blues. The first artwork I created for the show was a painting titled Float. It represented Asia Minor, where the music began. The inferno of the Smyrne catastrophe is depicted in the background and in the foreground there is someone playing, what at first glance looks like a violin, but quickly you realise he is holding a sword fish. This was a metaphor for the bitter, dier circumstances under which the musical influences of the rebetika music, carried across to the West, to the shores of Greece and in particular its urban centres.
So when it came to start my second painting, I began by standing in front of a canvas that I’d spontaneously brushed, with a sea of deep green-blue paint. Remembering that in the first painting FLOAT a sword fish HAD served as a symbol for a violin, I knew it was timely to depict an actual musical instrument. It was then, from within the stains of colour, that baglama from behind the glass display of the museum, came forth with sharp clarity.
This painting notes that it has reached as far as Australia, far from its origins and the spirit in which it was initially played: In Greece it found a new home, in the underground, played by refugees and outcasts, in defiance and out of necessity, it’s size helping musicians conceal it from the authorities and other potentially hostile eyes, like a tortoise retreating for protection inside it’s shell.
The Baglama migrated from east to the west then back towards the east. it had always travelled long distances, amidst changed circumstances, but always with its characteristic sound.The two birds in the top left and right corners of the painting suggest the cross over from Greece to Australia. The dove holds an olive branch, the magpie a musical note. The magpie flies towards the west and the dove towards the east, merging, exchanges, cycles. a tortoise represents among other things, resilience and longevity.
Far from home and home wherever it goes.